Management of a Large Qualitative Data Set: Establishing Trustworthiness of the Data

  • Debbie Elizabeth White University of Calgary
  • Nelly D. Oelke Health Systems and Workforce Research Unit
  • Steven Friesen Bethany Care Society


Health services research is multifaceted and impacted by the multiple contexts and stakeholders involved. Hence, large data sets are necessary to fully understand the complex phenomena (e.g., scope of nursing practice) being studied. The management of these large data sets can lead to numerous challenges in establishing trustworthiness of the study. This article reports on strategies utilized in data collection and analysis of a large qualitative study to establish trustworthiness. Specific strategies undertaken by the research team included training of interviewers and coders, variation in participant recruitment, consistency in data collection, completion of data cleaning, development of a conceptual framework for analysis, consistency in coding through regular communication and meetings between coders and key research team members, use of N6TM software to organize data, and creation of a comprehensive audit trail with internal and external audits. Finally, we make eight recommendations that will help ensure rigour for studies with large qualitative data sets: organization of the study by a single person; thorough documentation of the data collection and analysis process; attention to timelines; the use of an iterative process for data collection and analysis; internal and external audits; regular communication among the research team; adequate resources for timely completion; and time for reflection and diversion. Following these steps will enable researchers to complete a rigorous, qualitative research study when faced with large data sets to answer complex health services research questions.

Author Biographies

Debbie Elizabeth White, University of Calgary
Associae Dean of Research Associate Professor
Nelly D. Oelke, Health Systems and Workforce Research Unit
Senior Research and Evaluation Consultant